This Is Not A Drill Tour Review: The Genius of Roger Waters

I went to see Roger Waters play San Francisco Chase Center last night, in the first of two dates he is due to play there. I got the tickets as a gift when they were very first released and have had them for about 18 months, and so had high expectations walking into the show. I make no attempt to hide the fact I love Pink Floyd, and like many people there, I had shown up because of the body of work Waters created while he was in that band. The show had originally been cancelled because of the covid lockdowns, and for various reasons I did not think me and the Boy, who is a bass playing Roger Water’s fan, would even manage to survive until we saw Roger. I presumed I would not have been able to keep life going, and the two of us would not even be together. The fact that I have kept us together, that we are still in San Francisco, after all the homeless shelter time, all the dangers, and all the impossible barriers in our way, and after all this time brings a tear to my eye. Look how far we made it, and what better way to celebrate than by seeing the genius behind Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, perform live.

Before I carry on, I will say this. If you don’t have tickets to see Roger’s This Is Not A Drill performance, if you even have the vague notion that you ‘might like to go to the show’, stop reading this review right now, fire up ticketmaster and buy two tickets, in the most expensive seats you can afford. Just do it. You can read the review and salivate at the prospect of getting to experience this goodbye tour from Waters after. You will not regret it, and might even consider me quite a stand up kinda girl for giving you the hint. After all I could simply have not told you, and then you would be missing out on seeing what was the best show of my lifetime, and that would just be sad.

When we took our seats, in the center of the top end section of the stadium I became acutely aware of the problem that performing in the round poses. Everyone wants to see Roger and the rest of the performers, and everyone in there needs to get a good look at the light and projection show, which absolutely makes This Is Not A Drill into the masterpiece it is. I need not have worried, Waters handles the issue with aplomb giving all sections of the audience his personal attention, and the screens beam out the performance in real time so that nobody misses out on a moment.

Waters knows how to build anticipation in an audience. The sight of crossed hammers with This Is Not A Drill written under them greeted the audience, being beamed in by an uncertain and sometimes fuzzed out interrupted transmission over the vast screen outside the venue made it feel as if we were going to some secret meeting of subversive minds, getting together to make plans for some rock and roll revolution of humanity.

The crossed hammers with the ‘This is not a drill’ text is a cheeky but brilliant nod to Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe!” which has a picture of a pipe, with the words, this is not a pipe underneath the very obvious pipe. The reply being, “But, Magritte, that is a fucking pipe, Rene!’ (to channel Roger). Whereas, folks, this is definitely not a fucking drill, it is two fascist crossed hammers, it is Hammerstein time for humanity as a whole, and to break it down in the other sense of the word, things have just got real, baby. Life ain’t no rehearsal, and the doomsday clock is ticking us ever closer to ultimate destruction.

Roger writes politically. It is what he does, and I’ll say right now, though me and the Rog disagree on a few things and at times his stance infuriates me, we agree on a whole lot more. More importantly than that, I love Pink Floyd. I adore Water’s writing and creative vision, and I dig what he is trying to do. Rog hasn’t given up on the 60s dream: he is still trying to save the world through Rock and Roll. Water’s is ‘holding onto the dream’ just like he sings in The Final Cut, because, boys and girls, Roger is an idealist with his head obscured by a pillow of clouds, and his heart in the right place.

Roger is the ultimate hippy child, all grown up, who always did see the wolf knocking at the door, and started to warn us all in the 70s that the ‘Lunatics (were) on the grass’, trying to cut all us little people up into lamb chops, to mix my album metaphors. Tonight there was plenty of material from both Animals and Dark Side of the Moon. In fact Roger played for 2 and 3/4 hours. Track after perfect track, stunningly presented, perfectly played and proving who Pink was this whole damn time. It was Rog.

You see Roger can do Floyd without Mason or Gilmour, but Gilmour cannot do Floyd adequately without Roger. Heck, Waters even have a new guitarist and singer of Money, whose name is also David. The fact is the New David’s guitar work is every bit as luscious as Dave “Killer” Gilmour’s, it is every bit as perfect as David’s work on the albums. The New Dave doesn’t go off the beaten track and improvise like Old David does, but that is a good thing. People love the albums. They want to hear it like it is on the album, not feel sad because their favorite song sounds different. We need that soaring arpeggio. The audience thirsts to hear the songs that are part of their life, their social awareness, their friends, their comfort, exactly how they are on the albums, and for the most part, Roger gives us fans and acolytes exactly what our hearts desire.

The show starts with a cross shaped projection screen set up in the center of a cross shaped stage. The screens are down, and Roger is invisible. I have to admit as Comfortably Numb started to play I felt like I had been stiffed, like I had been conned. I came to see Roger, not a movie on a screen. I came to see the band, I came to see Waters perform and there he was….behind a wall.

Halfway through a literally thunderous, explosive version of Comfortably Numb, that made me uncomfortable to say the least I finally realized what Rog was up to. We last really saw Waters perform a stadium show in The Wall days, and Roger was starting off from that point carrying on from he left off. Comfortably Numb, from that album was performed from behind a wall, and Roger was giving us that experience, with the projection screens showing beautiful but disturbing images, the song turning into a lost dreamscape of danger in the skies.

Comfortably Numb, arguably, is his most popular song, and I get the distinct impression that Roger gets it out the way first because he really does not enjoy doing it. He changes it considerably, it is sung mostly by the backing singers, who do a great job, but it is not the song from the album and it is not Waters. It is a Waters temper tantrum at having to play the song the fans long to hear and that he is sick and tired of playing. Comfortably Numb is sacrificed in order to get the audience engaged and hungering for connection from behind our walls, and what better sacrifice than the song that just about every person in the room was longing to hear.

As human beings we do not like being shut off from others. Walls make us uncomfortable, the very opposite of comfortably numb, more acutely aware that we are on the outside and we can’t even look in. So the show started, and I wondered if Rog was going to perform the entire thing from behind his wall, separated from the audience, giving us the finger for not listening to him all those years ago in the 70s when albums like the masterpiece, Animals, told us listeners we were on the path to destruction, to an Orwellian nightmare. Then the projectors started to lift, the wall was raised and the man was standing right there, having raised his wall for a few hours in order to hang out with 2000 people or so at the bar and exchange some love with each other. Hippies like a drink too, I guess. I might love Pink Floyd, but will remain a punk to my dying day.

The Bar is Waters’ metaphor for communication and social interaction. He talked (or lectured, huh, Rog? Joke!) at length about this concept of everyone needing to be welcome at the bar, so we can all understand each other and get along. The Bar is a venue that promotes empathy and mutual understanding. His song, The Bar, written during lockdown, is every bit as wonderful as a lot of his Floyd work. His solo material, so often overlooked, absolutely shone during this performance. Those who do not want to listen to Roger’s politics were told by Rog before the show started, to ‘fuck off to the bar’ (where’s the fucking bar, John?!). In retrospect I think the clever Rog was trying to tell those who ‘like his music but hate his politics, to go talk to others and get some empathy and love going for their fellow humans. I might be wrong. Or he might just want them to fuck off, it is Roger after all.

If Roger had not started off behind his cross shaped wall/projector system The Bar would not have had such an impact. We started off with a huge song, a wide ranging song about IV opiate drugs being used to calm down a nervous rock star about to go on stage, that star being either Roger or Syd, depending on who you believe. Just a little pin prick, sings Roger, you may feel a little sick, in a knowing little nod to opiate nausea, then comes that isolated shining soaring guitar. It is as close to heroin as you are going to get without participating, and just about as much fun.

When Roger appears from behind his wall, it not broken down, but raised above him, ready to get back in place when he needs it, in a clear growth for Roger as a human being, and he gets down to that piano and starts to sing “Does everybody in the bar feel pain? Yes, sure they do.” The song is a Final Cut-esque hymnal to loving our fellow man, to those that are treated unfairly or shut out of society, or simply fail to thrive in this Capitalist Piggish nightmare. The pigs are all dancing on our suffering, and Roger is brave enough to project that dancing fat pig in all his finery right onto his wall. Roger is one brave Flower Child.

The first section of the show is Roger setting out his political manifesto of love, empathy, understanding, kindness and communication, using his solo material to great effect to do so. Anyone who was remaining in the hall after that point, who had not fucked off to the bar to escape Roger’s politics, was then treated to wall to wall Pink Floyd. Roger loves to swear. His battle cry of “Fuck me!” is more a lament than an exhortation. I wonder if American resident Roger understands that it is not common yankee vernacular and that he could get himself in all kinds of trouble. Especially considering the once absolutely disgustingly unattractive horse faced Rog of his youth has apparently turned into Richard Gear with better hair than the once pin up sex symbol. Rog is the only man in history to look better at 79 than he did at 19.

It became apparent that Roger was going to have his say, both in the little snippets of Pink Floyd history and lore that he projects up on the screen in terms of photographs of him and Syd, Nick Mason and Richard Wright, and also in Pink Floyd folk lore stories told in words. It bodes very well for his memoirs. The recounting of how Syd Barrett and Roger, when they were still at school together, went to see Gene Vincent, with the Rolling Stones on the bill too, and afterwards on the train home, decided that when they were in college they were going to start up a band, firmly fixed Pink Floyd as Waters’ band. He was there when the two creative geniuses behind Pink Floyd – Roger Waters and Barrett, created the proto band. He was there when it became Pink Floyd. He is one of the two original members of that proto band of him and Syd, who are alive today. Only Roger and Mason remain of the original Pink Floyd. Gilmour was invited to join after Barrett had his nervous breakdown caused by heavy use of LSD, as second choice to Jeff Beck who turned them down. Roger invited Gilmour to join and ultimately got shut out of his own band, the band that he formed, he wrote the material for and he nurtured, by the man he invited to join. It is a wonder that Roger is not angrier than he seems to be.

What follows is an absolutely gorgeous tour through the very best of Waters’ Pink Floyd material, presented with an artistic vision that proves who the genius was all along. The light show is impeccable, from the prism projections, to the cages made out of light beams, and an audience flooded with red light, the inflatable sheep floating in an amniotic-like red glow. Roger gave us inflatables, both a pig and a sheep, introducing them with a sweep of his arm, and a grin on his face. Roger is the consummate show man. He sells his vision for a better society not with popcorn but with inflatables, stunning light and projection shows, and the best band he could put together. The saxophonist is capable and has flair, New Dave (Kilminster) is just as good as the old Dave and sings a wicked Money, the back up singers are both very talented, and the drummer does his job without getting in the way.

Did I mention that Roger doesn’t hate his audience any more? No, he just hates those troll-like fuckers that have no time for peace love and understanding. He even said himself that he was a very grouchy young man, and now…well he is not. This grown up Roger is every bit as angry, every bit as full of piss and vinegar and screaming at the world to stop killing and mistreating, and standing solidly with the poor, the suffering, the undocumented, the marginalized. Roger the Rock Star has a social conscience the size of his back catalogue of alternative avant garde rock masterpieces. Pink Floyd is too good for the label prog rock, let’s leave that to Emerson Lame and Palmer. Roger Water’s Pink Floyd is far more than that, though the Learning to Fly material of Gilmour and his wife Polly’s Pink Floyd (yes, Gilmour’s wife writes for Floyd, but WAters does not), reaches those sad deaths of prog rock dull boring excess and banality.

Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give this show is that I finally realize that Floyd and their electronic sampling and their disregard for track length, and that spacey sound was every bit as barrier pushing as my beloved Velvet Underground. Roger is both the Lou Reed and the John Cale of Pink Floyd. He is that dirty, hard edged strutting rock god (albeit with his tongue in his cheek), but with Cale’s fine sensibility for the absolutely insane. Hey ho, huff the talbot, indeed. Ok, so that was Syd, not Rog, but still, the point remains. As far as Pink Floyd goes, Syd and Rog meld into one mythical creature called ‘Pink Floyd’.

Their hopes, dreams, creative vision being so far in sync that even when Syd disappeared into his dreams, Roger was still mining that creative seam of gold that Syd left behind, adding his own vision and talent to it. The result was pure alchemical turning of the steel of the strings and the sound of taut drum skins, the buzz of electric through circuits, into solid rock art gold. Roger Waters had that creative philosopher’s stone, and while his solo material never found the audience his work with Pink Floyd did, Waters still produced gems. No one can stay right on the top of their creative force forever. Look at Dylan, he was doing Wiggle Wiggle and Country Pie for years before his resurgence in Rough and Rowdy Ways, he never did another Blonde on Blonde that is for sure. There were flashes of brilliance, but not the consistent output of his best years. Roger has still got it, as The Bar proves. This is his creative resurgence. I can’t wait to hear what he puts out next, and I will stop being churlish and give his solo material a chance. I honestly believe that Radio K.H.A.O.S, Waters’ 1987 album, suffered only from an unsympathetic production, the material is top notch, as his life performance proves. Water’s performance of The Powers That Be was blistering and engaging, utterly beguiling, and absolutely powerful a vision and a sound. I enjoyed it immensely. It was far better than the version on the studio album, much to my utter amazement.

The show was totally immersive, drawing us into Roger’s vision, after shutting us out for the first track. Looking round the audience, who were applauding the words that flashed up on the screen saying things like “Fuck the Patriarchy”, and “Protect Reproductive Rights”, and “Free Julian Assange” in an act of telling each other and Roger that there was that grok, that copacetic meshing of wanting things to be better, and that not everyone wanted the world to burn.

So, yes Roger talks…and he likes to talk. I enjoy sitting at the bar with Rog and putting the world to rights. He kept saying ‘I will stop now..’, and I just wanted to tell him that I for one didn’t want that. It was refreshing to listen to a man who had never given a shit, who said what he wanted, when he wanted to say it, how he wanted to say it, and fuck the world if it didn’t like it. The thing is, the world didn’t just like who Roger was and is, they fucking loved him and still do. It remains one of my greatest ambitions to interview Waters.

Something very special happened in San Francisco last night: Roger found some of his people. I was proud of my adopted City to see that we loudly and demonstratively participated in the show, and gave Roger the feedback he must crave after putting so much of himself on the stage, and in the lyrics and into the sound and vision of his music and life’s work.

I have seen Nirvana at a huge show, I saw Dylan and I saw Suzanne Vega. I’ve seen punk bands in CBGBs and jazz acts in NYC. It is not as if I have never seen any live shows, but I have never left a show feeling so inspired, so impressed, so moved. I had tears in my eye as he played Wish You Were Here. Let me let you into a secret. You see the very best writing and art makes you feel as if it is just for you, or even better, that you identify with it so totally, that it feels like your words, your song, your life that the artist is illustrating. The fact that it felt as if Roger was singing to me, to my longings for people I have lost, is a testament to his power as an artist. This portrait of the artist as an old man, Waters on his goodbye tour at 79 year old, was a fragile thing of great beauty. I hope he puts out a live recording of his This Is Not A Drill tour, I would buy it in a heartbeat.

The finale was intimate. There were two encores, Two Suns In The Sunset, which is one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs, and a sweet song to his wife Camile, a Dylan infused love song that felt like we were sitting round the piano with Roger and hanging out. Two Suns is a lush yearning number, detailing the moment of Armageddon, and the defeatedness of it all. There are no winners in a nuclear war. Roger is no nihilist. He loves life, and the living and for someone who has had his struggles with people, not least of all his fans and his own band, Roger Waters is certainly a humanitarian who loves humanity and longs for us all to be treated equally, and fairly and not being used and abused and killed by The Powers That Be. The litany of wrongful killings, murders and political and racially based assasinations flashing up on the screen made me actually feel something approaching outrage instead of defeated and as if it is all already lost.

We have become so numb to the death and the suffering, and sometimes we need a poet to wake us up and make us outraged and devastated once again. Roger is one of these souls. This whole crazy world is just too frustrating, to quote Barry McGuire in his song Eve of Destruction. Roger echoes his words in The Bar, singing, “β€˜Does everybody in the bar feel shame? / Lord knows I do/ I guess we all feel pretty much the same / Kind of worn out by this crazy fucking zoo.”

His rendition of Deja Vu, is his Visions of Johanna, it is a song of immense power and beauty. It is one of his very best songs. I had never heard it before and it left me crying in my seat. Listen to it, please, even though it does not have that prestigious Pink Floyd label on it. Music has the power to get through to people, and music like this is so important, particularly now when the world is on the edge of blowing us all to Kingdom come.

The Famous Prism

Now the bad. Well this is a review, and not an advert. My view was quite badly restricted by the scaffolding for the projection system. I did not pay for a restricted view ticket, nor was it marked as such. I could not totally see the projections, which were vital to be able to read, nor could I see Roger very well at times, even when he was on my side of the stage, my view blocked by the scaffolding for the projector system. He does pull off the performance in the round thing, giving equal time to each of the four segments, and everything from the Hammerstein banners unfurling from the ceiling, to the prism lights is professional and polished, but I would have liked the opportunity to choose a ticket that did not have a blocked view.

Secondly, we and a lot of other people were almost not let in by The Chase Center. We had our tickets downloaded onto Google Pay and up on the phone, on ticketmaster, they were in my name, and I had ID. The tickets were valid, but bought before the show was cancelled and re-scheduled. I do not know if this was the issue. But there were a lot of people not being let in, and we all had to line up and wait for them to fix the issue, we were never told. We were there at the time the doors opened at 7pm, at the very front of the line and only finally were let in, due to their fuck up, just before 8pm. I had a very disappointed Boy, and I was beyond stressed. I was hoping to buy some popcorn, perhaps a couple of bottles of water, but instead had to line up and let them fiddle with my phone until they finally fixed it. This was a problem for hundreds of people at the show.

So much for contactless entry. About 3 different people had my phone in their hands, my ID, and I really dislike people playing with my phone from a sanitary point of view. The tickets should have been swiped and we should have been allowed in without ID. Those whose tickets worked did not need ID. The crowd was pretty drunk and pretty angry by the time the issue was fixed. The issue was with paper tickets as well as electronic ones. It really made the experience much less fun to start with, but Roger was so amazing, it really is not the end of the world. This was a Chase Center issue, not Roger’s problem, after all.

I also have to say the constant recording of the show on cell phones is very unfair. So was the smoking of vape pens inside the concert hall/performance area. I took a few photos, but quickly put my phone down. It really does spoil it for others. I also had to sit next to a very handsy drunk French speaking gentleman who kept on touching my arm and leg, who I had to eventually tell not to not touch me again. I’ll echo Syd’s words on Hollywood and Vine in California, “Las Vegas is nice, innit….PEOPLE”. Yeah, Syd. People.

Roger, dear Roger, nothing will ever touch that performance for me. It now holds a very special place in my heart. I might not agree with him on a few things (Ukraine. Cough). But that doesn’t matter, because despite me being an undocumented piece of shit who has lived a very dangerous and unsettling life on the run, Roger still thinks I belong at the bar, along with everybody else. Roger thinks everyone belongs at the bar, not just the straight white cis males who are rich and privileged. Roger won’t ever sell out. I hate a sell out, and Gilmour is a huge sell out. Roger is real, though I still don’t believe he only did LSD twice. I mean come on Rog…that tale about the tiny little everything episode was classic LSD horror show. I think Pink Floyd got told that if they were pigeonholed as a drug band then the big labels could not promote them, and so Rog has kept up the pretense ever since, with a twinkle in his eye and his hand in the cookie jar.

But I digress. Somehow Waters put on a lavish Pink Floyd standard show, and kept it real, kept it righteous, and kept it fun. Somehow he hasn’t lost all his hope. Somehow Roger is still that hippy kid that thinks if we could all just get along then no one else’s daddy will have to die in a war, like his sadly did. I hope he never changes. The world needs idealists who don’t see it as pie in the sky stuff, but achievable reality, and the due of every living soul.

Tear down the wall, people! Go see This Is Not A Drill, and show the genius some love. The angry old bastard deserves to know that he is not alone out there banging his head on some mad bugger’s wall.

For Roger’s sake can we all make peace. He has been fighting the good fight for a long time now. It almost feels churlish not to give the man what he so greatly desires:

Peace

13 Comments

  1. Michael Sammut

    I have been to various shows from various artists, but the show performed by Roger Waters, way back in Malta, still lives in my memory as the best music experience in my life and one of the best experiences in my life. Inspiring, moving and a total rocking sensation!

      1. EclecticMusicLover

        I went to a concert myself last night. Saw alternative dream pop band Cannons at a medium-sized venue in L.A., and it was great, though certainly not a once in a lifetime event like seeing the legendary Roger Waters.

      2. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

        I bet Cannons put on a good show, though. Isn’t it great that we are back to being able to go to shows and big events?! Life got quite depressing for a couple of years there. Seeing Waters was amazing for me and my son. He is my teenage boy’s hero, and partly why he chose the bass as his instrument. The man is a legend. He even did the ‘this one is for all the paranoids out there…it’s called run like hell!”…it really felt like we were getting the best of the Pink Floyd experience. I certainly would have no interest in seeing Gilmour’s ball-less Floyd cover band.

Leave a Reply